The COP26 summit began in Glasgow on 31st October, marking the start of a series of important discussions between world leaders about climate change, and how change can be made in all aspects of life in order to tackle it.
The climate crisis is an issue that affects, and is affected by, everyone on the planet – and that includes the things we enjoy, like entertainment and sport.
Signs of the damage of climate change on sport have become more frequent in recent years. Extreme weather events like typhoons, bush fires and heatwaves have disrupted sporting events from tennis and rugby tournaments to athletics and winter sports in the Olympics.
It is estimated that by 2050, one in four English football league grounds will experience regular, yearly flooding. Although issues like these can be attributed to the wider problem of rising global temperatures, sports have also been put in the spotlight for ways in which they can often damage the environment through their emissions. This is of course also due to the failure of those in charge to fully address climate change in a meaningful way.
In the same week that the English football league launched their environmental sustainability scheme, Premier League team Manchester United used an aeroplane to fly 10 minutes to their game in Leicester instead of taking a coach, emitting 10 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as a result.
Despite defending their behaviour by blaming congestion on the M6, these actions are inexcusable and make any claims by football teams that they are trying to improve their environmental impact appear hypocritical.
Even more of an effect is made by hordes of fans coming to watch each game – at full capacity, 76,000 fans travel to Old Trafford, and little is done to encourage fans to use public transport instead of cars.
Food served on match days are mostly meat-based options and this worsens the environmental impact – an issue that League Two team Forest Green Rovers solved by providing an entirely vegan menu for players and fans.
Participation in events on a global scale, such as the Champions League, Euros or World Cup are the worst offenders for a club’s emissions, as not only do teams travel abroad by aeroplane, they are also followed by huge numbers of fans, emitting tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Other global sporting events, such as the Olympics, pose a similar issue for the environment. In order to continue to compete and participate in sports with other nations, fostering global connections that most would agree is a hugely positive thing, these events require large scale travel by necessity.
Yet, if sports want to guarantee continuation long into the future, they need to ensure the environmental conditions in the countries involved don’t deteriorate to an extent that they can no longer safely compete there.
Although this is a complicated issue to solve, the very least that can be done is encouraging fans to use public transport, utilising rail or coach travel over planes where possible, and offsetting carbon emissions when they can’t be avoided.
Another sport that has been pointed to as being one of the worst for its environmental impact is motorsports, particularly Formula One. A sport centred on the high-speed consumption of fuel, alongside the transport of the F1 circus around the globe on a regular basis, unsurprisingly emits over 256,000 tonnes of carbon yearly.
Banning single-use plastics seems like a miniscule effort to combat this, but the 80% of fans who travelled to this year’s Dutch GP via bike went a step further.
With key sponsors comprised of oil companies and car manufacturers, any attempts to improve their environmental impact are heavily influenced by those who have the biggest financial incentive for things to stay the way they are.
Developments in green technology and turbo hybrid engines have improved the sustainability of F1, but these developments can’t be translated into any real-world benefits.
That being said, attempts to marry the sport with environmental issues like Formula E and Extreme E may provide a way forward for motorsports to continue in harmony as opposed to war with the health of our planet.
Fully electric cars in both of these sports have proven capable, yet less popular with current fans – a roadblock to change that we are likely to see across sports as they modify to improve their environmental impact.
During the conference, members of the Sports for Climate Action Framework agreed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 – a positive step and bold commitment to the environment.
However, far more is needed from leaders if the damage of the worsening climate crisis is going to be prevented. A delicate balancing act between reducing their impact whilst preserving and pleasing fanbases will have to be maintained, but if successful, can promote environmental sustainability on a global stage.